Ear of a KingWell, in short, he’s a monkey – though you’ve probably figured that out already. More specifically, he’s a White-headed Capuchin monkey, named Xerxes and a somewhat angry, kleptomaniac, tongueless one at that. He is the companion of the “hero” of a series of stories I started to write seven years ago.  Yeah, I know you’ve heard that story before. I’ve probably told it several times on this blog already, each time about a different project.   But at least with this one, there is an end in sight, or hopefully, a new beginning for it, as I’m hoping to kick it out of the door as an e-book called “The Ear of a King.”

“The Ear of a King” grew out of a response to G.R.R. Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire.”  Though I enjoyed the series, I was frustrated with the rate of his storytelling and in some way I wanted to lampoon his work and his style.  There are still some slight barbs toward Mr. Martin’s work, but it turns out I didn’t really have it in me, and the project grew into its own kind of twisted sapling. Though this probably had  lot more to do with the tone, colours and wretched squalor of Terry Gilliam’s film “Jabberwocky” of which I’ve been a long time fan. In particular, Max Wall’s performance as a tired, disinterested King and the inner workings of his courtroom, the by the book herald and the zealous, unflappable guards, gave me the starting point I needed to put pen to paper. Metaphorically speaking, anyway, since it was a laptop computer, using Circus Ponies’ Notebook and MS Word, rather than pen and paper.

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Max Wall as King Bruno the Questionable, from “Jabberwocky”

“The Ear of a King” tells of a medieval culture so degenerate and corrupt that it takes someone just as corrupt to try and steer it toward something, even anything, good. Quite frankly, medieval life sucks for everyone, even those at the top of the chain, ruling the roost. The King is an impotent weakling. The Queen is having an affair with… everyone who will give her a child, but notably the Knights of the Realm. Executions are frequent and numerous, and ancient cults create the most twisted forms of torture imaginable – for the royalty to use on the enemies of the state. It falls to the Court’s Jester, Wannear, to set things straight, but he is a twisted and deformed fool that no one takes seriously.

Wannear is as degenerate as everyone else, if not worse in many ways: a murderer, letch, conniving manipulator and sadist  who loathes everyone and carries a grudge like Sisyphus hauls rocks. What sets him apart is that he hopes for a better time, when everyone else is content to wallow in the mire. He knows what he is and no bones about it, whereas everyone else thinks of themselves as noble and pure, but their hearts, minds and loins are as rotten and maggot-ridden as last month’s leftovers. Wannear realizes that while he can’t be a part of a new era of beauty, valor and nobility, he could be a part of creating one, and that’s where the story kicks off. There’s a kingdom to save, right? Sure, but this is more of stopping a kingdom from choking on its own vomit.

So, where does Xerxes the Capuchin monkey fit into all this?  Well, no spoilers, but I’ll leave this here.

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The Nightmare – Henry Fuseli (1741–1825)

The story has been generally well received from the people who I’ve shared it with over the years, but some of their comments (and my own opinion) suggested it needed one more thing.  It took me awhile to figure out what it was – or rather, how to fix the issue – and so I’ve sat on it, bringing it out to place that final piece. Each time I did, I came up with more ideas – more stories for Wannear, how to expand it into a full length novel (though I believe Wannear would outstay his welcome in a large novel), but never that final piece.

The painting. It might be odd to say this, but when I wrote the story, I saw it being illustrated in the style of Maurice Sendak’s “Where the Wild Things Are”, with rounded, friendly cartoonish characters waggling around, seeming to  fit quite comfortably with their moral decrepitude.  My characters are, after all,  essentially cartoons, only rendered with words rather than pictures: their personalities exaggerated as much as possible, their actions grotesque slapstick.

That’s still the goal for any interior illustrations (you know, in the dream project…) but I felt the cover should try to put forward the tone of the story.  It started off as a quick sketch out of Manga Studio, did some time in Painter Lite, before being almost completely started over in Photoshop and worked on over maybe two weeks of late evenings when I grew tired of drafting spacecraft deck plans. It depicts Wannear and Xerxes making a hasty escape after an Urquehart guard searches for the cause of a disturbance.

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Evasive fools climb to safety before the Queen’s guard discovers them. Click thru for larger image.

 

With the cover finally done, I can get down to the business of getting the story ready for Smashwords and hopefully a few new people will get to read it. In the meantime, there is a short excerpt from the story on my Creative Writing page.

The “Ear of the King” was a guilty pleasure to write, trying to push buttons with each sentence to shock and disgust all the while sketching out a strange new “historical fantasy” world at the same time.  Many a sentence or wording got a twisted chuckle from me as they conjured thoughts and possibilities for future material, and I truly feel that’s one of the best parts of writing creative material.  And when you get thoughts like Wannear  – deformed jester, murderer, thief, manipulator – being an awful babysitter, the stories kind of write themselves…

Image Credits: Xerxes detail/Ear of a King painting, Ken McCulloch. All rights reserved.  Jabberwocky still Python/Umbrella films/Columbia-Warner Studios, “The Nightmare” by Henry Fuseli.